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Woman with Red Hair

Image // Unrated // September 9, 2003
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted September 17, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Director Tatsumi Kumashiro was someone I had read about in many a foreign cinema book or magazine article but I could never seem to track down any of his work. My basic impression of him was that he worked in the soft core industry and used the exploitative genre to tell tales of the lower class, show the struggles of the disfranchised, made character studies of the emotionally downtrodden, blue collar Japanese. The image I was left with was a sort of a sleazy John Cassavettes. Now, with two of his films surfacing on DVD, Woman with Red Hair (1979) and World of the Geisha (1973), I'd finally get to see some of his work.

Two laborers, Kozo and his buddy, decide to have their way with the foremen's daughter and force her into having sex with them. Three months later, they are driving when Kozo spots a woman with red hair hitchhiking and they pick her up. The woman moves in with Kozo, and they spend their days and nights tangled in torrid bouts of sex. Meanwhile, the bosses daughter is pregnant and insists that Kozo's buddy is the father and that he should take responsibility. Kozo tries to shrug off his feelings for the woman, refusing to fall for someone as loose as she is, yet she remains a mystery, at once fragile when her past is mentioned, yet a bold seductress in bed.

Well, I'm a bit unsure how to feel about Kumashiro's work. The "sleazy Cassavettes" image is pretty apt. It is basically, primarily, a two person drama, with a looseness both in their interaction and in Kumashiro's direction. The woman with red hair is a bipolar emotional mess, sexually, a cat in heat, making her a worthy female muse for a depressed, alcoholic, Southern playwright. Likewise, Kozo is a very machismo character, both driven by his crotch and insecure about it, torn between attraction and repulsion, and the fact that he wants a whorish woman to lay yet he doesn't want to fall in love with one.

What has me divided is I'm unsure if it works on its two levels. That is, as a decent melodrama or as a soft core effort. It is certainly dirty enough, but the sex is so clumsy and depressing that I doubt most would find it titillating. I mean, one major sex sequence revolves around his struggling to remove her tampon so he can have sex with her, while in another he is performing oral sex on her and angrily states that she smells "like ass", so he drags her across the room and douses her behind with cologne. And, it is scenes like that that leave me wondering- Is it meant to be an off-putting exaggeration? Is it meant to be cruelly comedic? Or, is it meant to actually be titillating? The first two I could see, but the latter is definitely lost on me.

So, it is a film of contrasts, and those contrasts make or break the film depending on your tastes. I did appreciate the rough, bleak, setting, which really enhaces how the characters would be in this constant malaise that is barely satiatied by losing themsleves in the heat of passion. I would say the style has more of a lean towards a Jess Franco arty, soft core sex fest, and really that is the crowd that this film aims at, though in a much more seedy manner.

The DVD:

Picture: Non-Anamorphic Widescreen. SQUEEZED is the key word here. I'm unsure what source they used, but it appears that the ratio is slightly off and is cramped and squished. It isn't as bad as say a Sandy Frank US Godzilla full-screen transfer, but it is still a bit annoying.

Other than that, the image quality isn't much of a surprise. I expected that since the films were made on the cheap and are thirty years old that they might not look stellar. Yeah, all the usual age wear is there: soft image, some dull colors and weak contrast, as well as some spots and flecks. Still, it isn't like this was boasting to be a remastered edition. Some films are old and they are going to look old, and you cannot expect anything other than a decent print to be found instead of a full scale restoration.

Sound: Japanese DD 2.0 Stereo with optional English subtitles. Well, the soundtrack is in better shape than the visuals, though it does have the marks of its era, some muffled dubbing and the soundtrack music (sort of lounge-y upbeat Tom Jonesish numbers) comes in blaring and distorted. Still, I was expecting more pops and hiss than the soundtrack presented so it was a decent presentation.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Tatsumi Kumashiro Filmography

Conclusion: Well, it is always nice when film makers whose work hasn't been widely seen (at least in the US) gets some exposure, even if it is just in a scant, worn, barebones release. However, the squeezed aspect ratio is a turn off, and the content is definitely for very selective, cult tastes. But, this is only one film from a large body of work, hopefully future releases will have better quality.

To be fair, somehting in the style may have been lost on me. In a poll conducted of "Best 70's Films", many Japanese critics cited Woman with Red Hair in the top twenty films of the decade.

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